Bryce Miller has come a long way in a short time. A fourth-round pick by the Seattle Mariners out of Texas A&M just two summers ago, the 24-year-old right-hander came into the current campaign ranked no. 83 on our Top 100 and made his major league debut earlier this month. Moreover, his three starts have been nothing less than stellar. Over 19 innings, Miller has fanned 18 batters while allowing just one run on seven hits and a single walk. His ERA is a minuscule 0.47.
Seattle’s pitching development acumen has played a big role in his success. Miller’s 96-mph four-seam fastball is in the 99th percentile for spin, but it wasn’t until he got to pro ball that he began utilizing it in an optimal manner. He has also advanced the quality of his secondaries and is attacking hitters with a more varied arsenal than he did as an Aggie.
“In college, we had Rapsodo and TrackMan, but I never really dove into that or really even knew what it meant numbers-wise,” explained Miller. “But with Seattle being pretty deep into analytics, that changed when I got here. They really opened my eyes on how my stuff plays and where I need to throw it.”
Miller mostly worked down in the zone with his heater at A&M, only occasionally going upstairs in search of two-strike chases. At just over 2,600 rpm and “around 20 inches of vert,” it’s clearly a pitch that plays best above the belt. The results speak for themselves. Elevating often, Miller has held opposing batters to an .093 batting average and a .116 slugging percentage when delivering his most overpowering offering. To date, 63.3% of the 248 pitches he’s thrown have been four-seamers.
Cal Raleigh, who has caught the righty in each of his three outings, pointed to the pitch when I asked what makes Miller so effective.
“He’s got a really good fastball,” the 26-year-old backstop told me. “It’s kind of his bread and butter. He’s got a unique slot, and he spins it at a really high rate. As a catcher, you can see how it gets on hitters by their swings and their takes, and how they almost seem surprised. It’s got a lot of life to it.”
Scott Servais was behind the plate for parts of 11 big league seasons, so I asked the Mariners manager if Miller is comparable to anyone he caught. What I got was a comparison to a current-day hurler.
“It’s a different fastball,” said Servais. “The ride on the pitch, and how he does it; he’s not grunting and snorting out there, he’s under control. I haven’t seen enough of Bryce — I’ve seen three outings — but when Gerrit Cole went to Houston and went away from the two-seamer and started to go to the four-seam fastball, he had really special ride on it. Bryce has got a lot of those characteristics.”
The fastball isn’t Miller’s only weapon. He’s throwing more changeups than he did back in his college days, and he’s also added a sweeper. His fourth pitch, which has long been part of his arsenal, is a gyro slider.
Whether his repertoire comprises four or five pitches, and how you choose to label them, is a matter of semantics. That conundrum came to the fore when I asked the Mount Pleasant, Texas native if he’s currently throwing a curveball.
“Not really,” replied Miller. “Analytically, it’s a slider. But I’m throwing three sliders, so it’s easier for me to call the bigger one a curveball. Then there’s the sweeper slider, and the other one is more of a cutter. They’re really all sliders, though.”
Which of his secondaries qualifies as the best pitch is likewise a matter of interpretation.
“By the metrics, it’s probably the sweeper, but really, I think the hard gyro is the best one,” opined Miller. “That’s because it’s firm and usually goes straight down, so it plays off my fastball better. You can push for Stuff+, or you can push for movement, but there’s also the factor of pitching. If I’m throwing mainly fastballs, the best pitch off of that is probably the harder slider, even though it’s not as good analytically.”
People who read my interviews with any regularity will be familiar with the final question I asked the rookie right-hander: Does he view pitching as more of an art or more of a science?
“Over the last few years, we’ve shifted more to the science than it had been throughout the history of baseball,” Miller replied. “The analytics side has become really big, and I definitely take advantage of what I have access to. I’m better because of it. But overall, I think it’s still an art. Once you get on the mound, it’s time to execute.”
To say that he has been executing his pitches would be an understatement. According to MLB’s Sarah Langs, Miller’s eight baserunners allowed in his first three career outings is the fewest in modern era big league history for a pitcher with at least 15 innings. His fourth career start is on tap tonight in Atlanta.